A COMMITMENT to the long-mooted event centre; the progression of the development of a suburban rail network between Mallow, Midleton and Cobh; investment in the M20 and M28 projects; and the delivery of a new elective hospital in the city are among the key projects for Cork included in the newly published national development plan (NDP) 2021-2030.
The plan, which was officially launched in Cork today, provides a “vision” on how Ireland will grow over the next 10 years, with a total public investment of €165bn earmarked for essential projects.
It focuses on 10 so-called “national strategic outcomes (NSOs)”, including enhanced regional accessibility; sustainable mobility; climate action; and access to quality childcare, education, and health services.
Key to the plan is the delivery of housing, with population growth of approximately 1m expected between 2016 and 2040.
Speaking at the launch of the plan in Páirc Uí Chaoimh today, the Taoiseach said that the NDP would provide for “an unprecedented level of exchequer resources” to build over 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes, and 18,000 cost rental homes.
“It is the largest State-led building programme in our history, while also facilitating the large increase in private housing output required to meet our housing needs,” Micheál Martin said.
The plan includes a significant investment in the transport system, with a number of projects in Cork singled out, including the proposed Cork metropolitan area transport strategy (CMATS) for a new east-west transport corridor to be served by light rail.
This project will develop a 10-minute all-day frequency on an electrified Cork suburban rail network serving Mallow, Midleton and Cobh.
The plan states that the NDP will fund the continued development and design of that proposal.
Part of BusConnects, including segregated cycleways, will be rolled out in Cork, as well as other cities.
Major road projects in the plan include the N/M20 Cork-Limerick road and the M28 Cork-Ringaskiddy road.
The plan also highlights the Cork City Northern Transport Project (formerly called the Cork North Ring Road in the 2018-2027 NDP) as a complementary project to the N/M20 and says consultants have been appointed by Cork City Council to carry out an early appraisal and examine route options.
Other transport commitments in the plan include the redevelopment of Ringaskiddy Port and continued funding support to Cork Airport over the next two years.
The transport commitments have been broadly welcomed, including by Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central Pádraig O’Sullivan, who said the development of Cork’s commuter rail network “will be hugely important to the area”.
Cork-based MEP Deirdre Clune said the commitment to the Cork-Limerick M20 motorway would be of “huge benefit to the Munster area.”
Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy said the plan could only be a success if it was delivered.
“To ensure success, it is essential that the NTA [National Transport Authority] increase their presence in Cork, with a dedicated team.”
“It must be noted, however, that the NDP can only be a success if it is delivered. Planning, objection, and speed in our courts must be streamlined or the NDP will remain a to-do-list rather than the investment it intends to be,” he said.
In terms of health, the plan says that dedicated elective centres in Cork, Dublin, and Galway are being progressed for consideration through the Public Spending Code, as set in the recent Sláintecare mid-year progress report for 2021.
These facilities, it says, will provide high-volume, low-complexity procedures on a day- and outpatient basis, together with a range of ambulatory diagnostic services. It is envisaged that these facilities will be sited adjacent to general hospitals.
Cork North Central Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould was somewhat critical of the detail around the plans for the elective hospital.
“There are no clear and descriptive plans to end the healthcare crisis in Cork,” he said.
“Every week, we see CUH with the highest trolley numbers in this State, and yet there isn’t even a location, never mind a timeline, for the elective hospital. This needs to be a full elective hospital that will properly take some of the strain off the CUH and the Mercy, which are both on their knees.”
On the education front, capital funding of over €4.4bn has been earmarked for investment in school infrastructure nationally from 2021 to 2025, and commitments are made for funding for the refurbishment of the 1974 building at Munster Technological University, infrastructure for the Cork University Business School, and retrofitting/decarbonising projects at UCC’s O’Rahilly building.
The delivery of the Cork event centre is also a key commitment under the plan, which it says will represent a “major contribution to urban regeneration, enhanced amenity and heritage, and increased quality of life for Cork” and will “also aid the wider economic potential and balanced regional development of the southern/midwestern region.”
Speaking in Cork today, Michael McGrath, the public expenditure minister, said there had been ongoing work by all the key stakeholders — Cork City Council, Live Nation and BAM — to progress the event centre.
Mr McGrath said that work continued right through the pandemic to agree the legal terms relating to how much public funding would be made available, and he said that work was nearing completion.
“I understand there is agreement in principal on all substantive issues in the funding agreement, and Live Nation and BAM are working to mobilise their design team so they can be fully engaged once corporate approval is secured from Live Nation in Ireland,” Mr McGrath said.
A number of other Cork-related projects are included in the national development plan, including the provision of a new accommodation block in Collins Barracks, Cork; an upgrade to accommodation in the naval base in Haulbowline; and the development of a new Garda station in Macroom.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr McGrath said the plan was “very exciting for Cork and opens up a lot of opportunity”.
However, he stressed that the focus now had to be on “delivering these projects and getting them done.”
Commenting on the overall plans, Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said he was “hopeful” about the proposals.
“I’m very hopeful and obviously we need to be optimistic that what is being proposed today will be delivered, but we have our own ambitious targets as well and our ambitious plans, which Pearse Doherty will set out in our budget next week, that go beyond a lot of what is being promised in the national development plan.”